Day 97 – Getting Scammed While Being Charitable

We love to give. We love to see our gifts make a difference where needed, and to know that our donations help to relieve suffering, lift the fallen, empower the forlorn. Regardless, there are those who take advantage of our generosity in the furtherance of their greed or vice. I love to give, to invest, and to spend thriftily. I hate being “taken”.

During my Joyful Adventure in 100 Days of Giving, I’ve encountered a couple of bad apples. While interviewing a local homeless man, Jimmy G. (Day 88), he informed me that another “homeless” man, stationed at a nearby interstate exit, actually owns a three-story home where he lives with his ex-exotic dancer partner.  I had given money or CarePaks to this same man several times.

I had an even more disturbing “awakening” last week, while visiting my son and his family in Raleigh. My 14-year-old granddaughter and I were at Walmart picking up a few groceries, when we were approached by a tearful mother with her young daughter in tow. Unable to speak English, she produced a weathered notecard that stated she had lost her job, was broke, and had no money to provide food for her five young children. Would we please help by buying the contents of her shopping cart?

It seemed like a no-brainer. She had several boxes of cereal, two gallons of cooking oil, some herbs, and a handful of small items for babies. I figured $60 – $100 max. As we marched to the check-out lane, my granddaughter and I proceeded to the gift card rack to add $100 to the total. “Marie”, the name the woman had given in broken English, maintained a tearful, solemn expression that revealed a hint of both relief and gratitude as a result of our generous assistance. The half cart of her provisions were quickly scanned and re-loaded into her cart.  

Then the total was displayed. $620! I was stunned and in shock. I numbly shuffled through the check-out process and staggered to my daughter-in-law’s car. Carefully reviewing the receipt, we noticed a dozen infant-related items ranging in price from $27 to $45, mostly formula.  Online research revealed I had likely been the victim of the Walmart Baby Formula Scam. I was crestfallen, not so much about money ill spent, but more about having fallen prey to a skilled actress who preyed upon the giving side of my nature.  

FBI: Charity fraud schemes seek donations for organizations that do little or no work—instead, the money goes to the fake charity’s creator. While these scams can happen at any time, they are especially prevalent after high-profile disasters (like Covid). Criminals often use tragedies to exploit you and others who want to help. Charity fraud scams can come to you in many forms: emails, social media posts, crowdfunding platforms, cold calls, etc. Always use caution and do your research when you’re looking to donate to charitable causes.

AARP: Americans contributed nearly $450 billion to charity in 2019. That generosity supports many amazing organizations that put those billions to work for health care, education, environmental protection, the arts, and numerous other causes. Unfortunately, it also opens a door for scammers, who capitalize on donors’ goodwill to line their pockets.

Sham charities succeed by mimicking the real thing. They create well-designed websites with deceptive names. Some operate fully outside the law; others are in fact registered nonprofits but devote little of the money they raise to the programs they promote. But with a little research and a few precautions, you can help ensure your donations go to organizations that are genuinely serving others, not helping themselves.

Check how watchdogs like Charity NavigatorCharityWatch and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance rate an organization before you make a donation.